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  • Kat Waskett

The top 3 things to do to plan and prepare for a new cross stitch project

Updated: Jul 20, 2022

Starting a new cross stitch project is so exciting that it can be very tempting to dive right in and start stitching, but there are a few things you can do beforehand that might just save you time and hassle in the long run.

"For every minute spent in organising, an hour is earned" - Benjamin Franklin

Now, I'm not sure about that exact time saving conversion but the sentiment is certainly true. I used to be very impatient to just get started but I have learned the hard way that it is worth taking the time to plan and prepare for a new cross stitch project.

You may not always need to undertake all the steps I outline here, but I'm going to give you my top 3 things to think about. If you want to skip to a specific section then just click on one of the section headings below;

Do I have enough time to stitch this?

For a lot of projects this won't be a concern but if you are stitching for a deadline such as a birthday card or gift, a project for a special occasion such as a birth or retirement etc, or the one that I always struggle with...Christmas cards, then you might want to make sure you have enough time to complete it without stitching into the wee small hours the night before the project needs to be finished. I may be speaking from experience always takes longer than you think it will - lol!

One way to figure out how long a project will take is to time yourself stitching a 10x10 block of stitches and you can then use that to work out how long a project will take.

For example, if it takes you 30 minutes to stitch the block of 100 stitches, then that gives you a stitch rate of 200 stitches per hour.

So, if you know a pattern contains 1600 stitches then you know it will take you at least 8 hours to stitch. I say at least 8 hours because you will likely stitch slower than 200 stitches per hour due to changing colours etc.

However, a lot of patterns don't give the total stitch count so you can also estimate this using the stitch height and width, which is more commonly stated on patterns. Unless the pattern is full coverage you will also need to estimate how much of the total area is actually stitched.

For example, my stripy vase of flowers pattern is 55 x 70 stitches, which is a total of 3850 stitches. Estimating that about half the design area is stitched, that's roughly 2000 stitches, which would take 9.6 hours to stitch based on 200 stitches per hour. This is just an estimate, and in reality it's only 1400 stitches so you would actually be finished quicker than that - yay!

Cross stitch of stripy vase of pink and purple flowers in a wooden embroidery hoop

Once you have estimated how long it will take to stitch a particular design you can even break this down to how much you would need to stitch each day or week to meet the deadline. So, if you are able to stitch for 30 minutes a day, then you would need to allow 19 days to stitch that vase of flowers pattern (based on the 9.6 hours).

Finally, I recommend you always add a little extra time because things never go to plan and if you have a complicated pattern with lots of different colours of confetti stitching then definitely allow quite a lot longer. My stitch rate can pretty much halve in some cases!

Get organised

If you are a paper planner type of person (I am!) then you might like to plan out your project on a planner sheet (like these fab planner sheets!) or in a pretty notebook. You can jot down the supplies you need, the design details, how long you think it will take to stitch, and even record your progress as you go.

Some other steps you may find helpful are;

Gather your supplies

Starting a new project and THEN finding out that you don't have all the thread colours is just the worst, so make sure to gather everything you need up front. This includes the fabric you want to use, sufficient threads (check those quantities if it's a big project!) and even extra needles just in case!

If you like to stitch on a frame or hoop then make sure you have one the right size for your project.

Whether you stitch in hand or with a hoop or frame, if the project is a big one then it can be handy to have some mini bulldog clips, pegs or other way to roll and clip the excess fabric to stop it getting in the way and getting dirty.

Prepare your chart

If you have a digital pattern then print it off at a size that works for you. If you have a kit, you may like to photocopy the pattern so you can keep the original clean and tidy to refer back to if needed.

Of course, there are also options for working from patterns digitally using various apps which I am not going to go into here.

Get something to cross off your chart

If working from a paper chart then you might like to cross off the stitches as you complete them, so grab a pen, pencil, highlighter pen...whatever works for you.

Sort your threads

If you have a kit, these may already be sorted onto a thread organiser, but you can still change this up if you have another way of sorting them that you like better.

You could use a thread organiser, put them on card/plastic bobbins, or just pop them in small plastic bags.

If you are really super organised you might even wish to pre-cut lengths of thread, pull strands apart or have needles all threaded up ready to go!

I've talked more about thread storage before which may also give you some useful tips, and you can see how I sort my threads for a project.

Keep it all together

Find something to keep the project all together, even just a plastic bag if you must! (Shhhh, don't tell anyone but my Mum still does this) This way you don't lose any bits and pieces and makes your project easily portable. If you like to work on multiple projects at a time then you can keep each project separate and even stash them in different rooms (or your handbag or your car!) to work on at different times.

I can't resist a cute project pouch and always have a stash on hand to pop a new project into. Each pouch even has its own pair of scissors too!

Mesh pouch with STITCH text on it, with cross stitch pattern, cross stitch work in progress on linen fabric, threads and scissors spilling out of the top

Prepare your fabric

There are a few things to consider here...

Get the size right

If you are buying and/or cutting a piece of fabric, remember that "measure twice and cut once" is a thing for a reason! In fact, I would say "think thrice, measure twice and cut once!"

I think this is something to dive into in a bit more detail in future so for now all I will say is make sure to leave a good border, at least 2-3 inches, on all sides. If in doubt, leave more rather than less.

Wash your fabric

I consider this very much an optional step and not one I do very often. It can be a good idea if your fabric is really stiff (unless you like it that way!), OR to make sure it won't shrink afterwards, depending on how you are going to use it e.g. for a cushion, OR if you have really deep fold lines in the fabric that can be stubborn to shift afterwards.

Prepare the edges

If you are working on a very small, quick project then you can likely get away without doing this step.

But if you have a project that you are working on for any length of time or on are stitching on evenweave/linen then chances are the edges of the fabric will fray quite a bit as you work.

Is this a problem? Well maybe not, but you may find your threads catch on the frayed edges as you stitch which can be irritating, and you can lose some of your carefully measured border.

I have often figured I could get away without preparing the edges to stop them fraying and regretted it so now I almost always do something to prepare them unless it really is a very small project.

There are lots of ways to stop the fabric fraying; cut the edges with pinking shears, apply tape around the edges, sew round the edges by hand or with a machine, or use a seam sealant such as Fray Check. I am going to be testing all of these options very soon and will discuss them in more detail in another blog post.

Find your starting point

You can start in the centre of the design or from a corner, whichever you prefer. Remember, there's no right or wrong to this choice, and I sometimes do one and sometimes the other!

To start in the centre, fold the fabric in half and then in half again in the other direction i.e. into quarters, and pop a pin in the hole in the middle.

To start in a corner, measure in from the edge the amount of extra fabric you allowed e.g. if you allowed 2 inches extra on each side, measure 2 inches across and down or up from the corner of the fabric and mark this point with a pin.

Add grid lines

A quick disclaimer here because I never grid my fabric anymore...yep, I am kind of a rebel like that!

So many people swear by this for ensuring they don't make mistakes in placing their stitches so if it works for you then do it.

I am not going to go into this in detail (not yet but maybe watch this space!) but you can mark out just the centre lines or lines every 10 blocks using a long running stitch or a washable pen/pencil.

I hope this has given you some inspiration and motivation to be fully prepared for your next project.

Until next time...happy (and organised) stitching!


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